Senators in the 25-member Common Sense Coalition on Monday said their work in developing a deal to help end the government shutdown shows the road to getting big-ticket items passed in the future needs to run through the middle of both parties, rather than the extremes.
Though senators in the bipartisan group cautioned that the final deal to fund the government through Feb. 8 was ultimately brokered by their respective leaders, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the coalition’s input was critical in helping break the stalemate.
Mr. Schumer said he was “incredibly grateful” to the senators for their work and that the coalition managed to make up for President Trump’s “glaring absence” in the process.
“I believe that this group has the potential to return the Senate to the kind of place it should be on the issue of immigration: a place for bipartisanship, a place for action, a place for achievement,” Mr. Schumer said.
Sen. Susan M. Collins’ office — described by Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, as “Switzerland” — served as one of the meeting places for the coalition, which also included Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, along with red state Democrats such as Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
“I believe that our group, by giving them specific ideas for how to move forward, and because of the size and bipartisan nature of our group, played a very instrumental role in breaking the impasse,” said Ms. Collins, Maine Republican.
In a testament to the senators’ prominence, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Jones huddled with Mr. Trump at the White House on Monday as lawmakers looked for a path forward on immigration. The president also met with a handful of Republican senators on Monday, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, two immigration hard-liners.
Mr. Manchin, though, went beyond simple calls for bipartisanship and said the Senate as an institution needs an overhaul.
“The system must change. The rules of the Senate have to change,” he said. “I don’t believe that either leader on either side should have the powers that they have.”
Mr. Manchin, stressing that he was speaking for himself and not the broader group, nevertheless said individuals such as Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, shouldn’t be in a position where they can almost unilaterally set or stop an agenda, even if the centrists don’t necessarily want to go along.
“And they listened. And that’s what moved it,” Mr. Manchin said. “Because we weren’t backing off. We weren’t going to be beat into submission.”
He said taking a look at Senate rules and asking how to make the institution work better is another logical step.
“How come committees don’t work? How come committee chairs don’t have input? How come the appropriation bills aren’t working?” he said. “How do we get to this point?”
Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, said the public isn’t wrong to be skeptical of Congress’ ability to get things accomplished, but he added that the group’s discussions about breaking the budget impasse should be seen as a model moving forward.
Mr. Kaine said the coalition originally came together to try to craft a fix for the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and then “the shutdown intervened.”
“But we’re going to hang together for other challenges, too, because we think the engagement [of] this group of 30 can help the Senate be more like the Senate,” he said.